My Birding Blogs

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tahiti Trip 2007 - 03 Aug to 11 Aug 2007

White Terns (Gygis alba) - Rangiroa Atoll, Tuamotu
The main purpose for my trip to Tahiti is to see some of the spectacular and endemic birds in French Polynesia. For a small island state with many island groups that scatter around the Pacific Ocean as vast as Europe Continent, it is not possible for a visitor to cover all the endemics in the island state. Anyway, my intention is just to concentrate on a few rare birds which until recently, were almost impossible to see. Thanks to rigorious conservation efforts and survey these years, many dangerously threatened birds' situations have been reversed.

French Polynesia is really a very beautiful island paradise with friendly people. (I do not need to further elaborate that). However, it may not be the best place to add a long list of new birds, considering the high cost and low number of native birds. It is rather more appealing to those who are fascinated by the native endemic Polynesian birds and are keen to know a bit more on how these highly threatened birds are actively managed to reverse their current deteriorating situation through combined efforts of local and international organisations as well as locals. The Ornithological Society of Polynesia - "Manu",( and the people behind it, should be commended for their proactive hard works to help save the birds of French Polynesia, which many of them are among the rarest birds species on Earth.

Putting birding aside, there are still a lot a travelling birdwatcher could gain: Making acquaintances with the local birdwatchers and conservation groups; Trying out local food (not the pricey hotel food); Understanding the local custom and culture (including Tahitian dance, of course); Picking up local language and brushing up my elementary level French; And last but not least, simply enjoying the beautiful scenery and friendly people in French Polynesia.

Overall, both my wife and I enjoyed this trip tremendously. My wife as a non birdwatcher and non nature lover was initially rather obliged to accommodate the trip to suit my itinerary. It turned out that she had found her favourites unexpectedly in an unexpected holiday destination - local food - simultaneously exotic and homely. We found inexpensive and great food at the “Wagon Restaurant” in the city centre - Chinese stir fry, French crepes, and barbecue fish. Having dinner in the setting of tropical open air crowded eating places reminded us of eating out at night in crowded city/towns in Malaysia/Singapore/Thailand.
Spectacular waterfalls in Papenoo Valley, Tahiti.

We may have missed many MUST DOs in French Polynesia such as beach going, snorkelling, scuba diving, some interesting sites like museums, etc. That is why one can never get enough and should never get enough of everything a place can offer. Leave it for some other time or for someone else to fill the story. After all the islands group is as big as the Europe Continent, if you include the journey to connect the islands from one end to the other. Putting aside the world famous Bora Bora and Moorea Islands, French Polynesia still has a lot to offer.

Inter-Continental Resort, Tahiti. (Moorea Island in the background)

Our 10-days-8-nights trip started from departing in early morning Fri 03 Aug 2007 from our home base in Sydney to returning to Australia on Sun morning, 12 Aug 2007. The direct Sydney - Papeete flight by Air Tahiti Nui took about 8 hours in going journey and 9 hours in returning journey. No visa is required for most nationalities.Following is our itinerary in chronological order.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 1 - Fri 03 Aug 2007 Sydney - Thu 02 Aug 2007 Papeete

Due to crossing the international dateline, we gained one day upon arrival in Tahiti.

Arrived Tahiti’s Faaa International Airport at 9pm local time. Despite situated in one of the most remote corner in the world, the airport can be crowded even at late evening. As advised by my colleague who had been to Tahiti a month earlier, we did not book for pre-arranged hotel shuttle and walked straight out of departure hall to the taxi stand less than 20m in front. The taxi fare at this hour can be very pricey. We had to pay XPF4300 (~USD43) to get to Radisson Resort which is only 10 km away. We could have got XPF4000 but the XPF300 was added for the 3 extra luggages that the taxi driver has the right to charge. The lady taxi driver drove us past the Papeete town centre and gave us a brief introduction of the city landmarks in French as we drove along. It would be helpful if you have done some research at home beforehand and understand some basic French. By the time we checked in at the Radisson Resort (newest resort on the main island), it was already past 10pm. No more room service as the kitchen has closed at this hour. No shops outside of the Resort and even though there are, do not expect this is Bangkok where you can find food easily in late hours. Luckily, the cup noodles tucked in the luggage became very handy in this type of ‘hunger’ emergency.

Restarant and Pool at Radisson Resort, Tahiti.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 2 - Fri 03 Aug 2007 Papeete

Breakfast appointment at Radisson with my wife's colleagues in Tahiti.
Some says everyone in Tahiti is friendly, including animals and the creepy crawlies. Here there are a Domestic Hen (Gallus gallus) and two of her chicks wondering around in the resort restaurant. A few moments later I saw my first Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) swooping over the guest sofas from the trees beside the swimming pool. Other birds that can be seen easily within the resort compound are Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata) and Red-browed Firetail Finch(Neochmia temporalis).

Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) , an introduced bird from India. Found commonly in hotel resorts.

There were white birds flying over the beach which I suspect to be White Tern due to its pure white plumage. Too bad I did not have binoculars with me but I later ticked this bird 3 days later in Tuamotu.

We missed the free shuttle bus to the town centre at 8am but the bus stop was just outside the resort and the service was frequent in daytime, about every 15 minutes. All buses (some have not been upgraded and is still ‘Le Truck’ among them) go to the town centre and the fare is XPF200 (~USD2) - very reasonable by French Polynesia's standard.

Cathedrale de l'Immaculee Conception, Papetee, Tahiti
The rest of the noon is mainly shopping for souvenir or simply window shopping. I also took this opportunity to enquire for the car rental which I planned to drive a week later. We went along Rue des Remparts which is mentioned by Lonely Planet that is good place to enquire for car rental besides the car rental counters at the air port. It seemed that Avis has better branding here and can be seen from the price. Avis also imposed daily surcharge for peak season. Europcar, on the other hand, offered a 20% discount (valid for Tahiti Island only) for international traveller travelling by Air Tahiti Nui.

Other places worthwhile to recognise are the Tourist Information Centre at the water front of the town centre and the auto money changer teller machine just across the street. We also visited the Post Office which is at west side along the water front main road, Boulevarde Pomare. My main purpose of visiting the post office is the buy 2 stamps - at our time of visit, French Polynesia Post Office had issued a set of 2 fabulous stamps featuring Polynesian Ground-dove and Tuamotu Sandpiper - what a timely souvenir for a visiting birdwatcher cum bird stamps collector!

Today is the first Friday of the month, which coincidently is the monthly meeting day for MANU members. As the bus system was efficient (during daytime only and not during rush hour), we had decided to hop onto one to the east of the town to pay a visit at MANU's office. Blessed by tourist luck that we found the white building where MANU was located without much trouble. Our intention of visit was not really to attend the meeting, but rather to ask for more guidance on looking for those targeted birds within our short time frame in French Polynesia. As the expected turn up of members was few due to major school holidays, Philip had kindly invited us to join in for a small informal social meeting attended by 3 other members at the bar of Sheraton Hotel. It was nice to make acquaintance with the local ornithology club members and know how they work to promote and conserve the birds of French Polynesia. For example, it was interesting to get the first hand information in conversation of Rimatara Lorikeet, Fatuhiva Monarch and Marquesas Imperial Pigeon. It would be great for me to visit one day the islands where are found. Generally the conservation and survey works are very challenging in this part of the world. For example, due to remoteness of some islands from modern civilisation, transportations to some islands are very costly and difficult to organise.

After the meeting had finished before sunset, Philippe dropped us at the water front of the town centre where we had our very nice dinner at the famous open air wagon food outlets. This is where one can find many affordable choices of barbecue fish, Chinese dishes, pizza, and last but not least the crepes which is a must try. Took an expensive taxi ride back to hotel at XPF3000 (If we had left before 8pm it would have been XPF2000)/ Back at Radisson Resort where we managed to catch up with the Tahiti Dance show before it finished. I have also confirmed with Jean on my next day quest for the Tahiti Monarch.

Tahitian Dance at Radisson Resort, Tahiti

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 3 - Sat 04 Aug 2007 Papeete, Tahiti

Meet up with Jean at 730am and we were at the SE side of Tahiti where a few narrow forested valleys in the areas are the last piece of land where the critically endangered Tahiti Monarch (Pomarea nigra) survives. These less accessible valleys are the few last remnant natural habitats which are least affected by all sorts of invasive species. Currently there are only about 40 individuals that have been accounted for. Furthermore half of them are non breeding single birds. Hope its situation will improve after intensive rat poisoning, habitat management and population monitoring. There are some initial signs that the birds are increasing slowly and a possible small population may be found in another inaccessible valley.

Tahiti Monarch (Pomarea nigra) - Adult

See BirdLife’s link for more information on the Tahiti Monarch.
We hiked from the foothill for about 3 kms further into the steep and narrow valley. We crossed many shallow streams and Jean had to chop off many entangled twigs and fallen branches along the way. In the beginning of the journey, the floor of the track was filled with wilted flowers of the beautiful African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata), indicating that this part of forest is nothing but a land dominated by introduced species. No wonder the Monarch has been pushed to the further up in the valley. It took us 45 minutes before coming to the first territory according to Jean. Probably due to overcast in the morning, there was no bird call, no bird activity for nearly an hour before we finally spotted the first Tahiti Monarch near the canopy of the forest. By noon, we saw all the 3 flycatchers (A pair and a single, all adults in black) in the territory. Jean also showed me a clump of debris which was formerly a nest a year ago. This flycatcher can be surveyed relatively easier from the perspective of monitoring forest dwelling bird. This is because the bird is highly territorial and amazingly that there is no other passerine living in the territory, at least from my observation.

African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata). Beautiful plant but detrimental to native ecology

The only other birds observed at this site was a Gray-green Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus purpuratus purpuratus) on a highest canopy as well as a few Tahiti Swiftlets (Aerodramus leucophaeus) flying above the canopies. We then hiked for 20 minutes further up to look for the second territory. Unfortunately no flycatchers turned up at that territory and the only other bird recorded was the crows of the feral Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus). We then went into a canyon where another Tahitian endemic - the Tahiti Swiftlet (Aerodramus leucophaeus) is found nesting. I only had a fleeting view of an all brown swiftlet and there were about 20 nests cluttering on an overhanging wall. The area was very dim the stream that flows through the canyon was rather rapid.

Precipitous canyon in the interior of Tahiti island

We returned to our car at 2pm and next to the car we heard of the introduced Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) in the thick scrubs. Very well known among the locals, this white-eye's local name 'Vini' has been adopted as the name of the national mobile phone network service provider ( Back to Radisson Resort for a shower and nap. At night the hotel hosted yet another Polynesian dance show, this time it is the Marquesas dance which is different from the Tahitian dance the night before.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 4 - Sun 05 Aug 2007 Papeete - Rangiroa

Checked out from Radisson Hotel at 9am and hopped into our pre-booked taxi to Faaa Domestic Airport - both International and domestic airport are sharing the same building. Note that there is only 20kg baggage limit for domestic flight if you are connecting from international flight within 7 days, scuba diver could have even more allowance. Otherwise the baggage limit is so miserable at 10kg for domestic travel. Knowing the limitation, we had left some large luggage at the hotel. Since we arrived early at the airport (luckily no traffic congestion in the city), we had decided to booked our rented car in advance at the Europcar Airport counter for our trip back in Tahiti three days later.

Arial view of Lagon Bleu - Blue Lagoon, "Lagoon within Lagoon", Rangiroa Atoll

The domestic flight took off on time. The lady officer at the departure hall checkpoint was curious of us and probably had never seen our Malaysian passports. She tried to read my name 'Lelaki' which actually means male gender in Malay. There was no allocated seating for the small domestic aircraft. My wife and I had to sit separately on the aisle seats and that made us miss the golden opportunity of taking photos from the air the islands of Moorea and Tetiaroa (Famous for late Hollywood star Marlon Brando). However I still managed to take some decent photo of Tetiaroa as well as Blue Lagoon of Rangiroa. It was an easy one hour flight in clear and sunny day. Norbert, our bungalow owner had already waited for us at the small airport of Rangiroa. With him was his very cute five year old son Brian. After putting down our luggage at the bungalow, Norbert drove us to the Pizzeria nearby. Our first day was free and easy.

View from our bungalow - Traditional Polynesian Hut

Rangiroa is the 2nd largest lagoon atoll in the world. It consists of 200+ flat motu (islets) which make up the chain of the atoll. The turquoise blue lagoon is so beautiful that you have to see it to believe it. Norbert also drove us to the nearby 'main' town of Avatoru and then to the other end of Tiputa village overlooking Tiputa Pass which is famous for drift scuba diving. We did not have any luck with dolphin while waiting briefly at Tiputa pass. We later took Norbert's bikes to wander about the nearby Avatoru main village.

Motu Fara, an islet at Avatoru Pass. Rangiroa

Dinner prepared by our host, Norbert and Tildi was brilliant (Tuna in Vanilla Cream, a specialty from French Polynesia as well as 'poisson cru' the raw fish in coconut milk, rice and dessert). That gave us a good experience of living with the Polynesian family. We had the privilege to be the first English speaking guest Norbert had ever received. French love the traditional 'Pension' and Norbert's guests have been almost exclusively visitors from France. 2 different families we met at the other Norbert's bungalow on separate nights coincidently come from Toulouse of France.

Our host's sons playing canoes during their school holiday. Photo taken from our bungalow's veranda. Rangiroa Atoll, Tuamotu

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 5 - Mon 06 Aug 2007 Rangiroa

Today's itinerary is the main purpose of the whole trip. The weather is clear and the sea is calm in the morning. At 9pm, we hopped on a small boat heading to an uninhabited islet (Motu) owned by an extended local family. Permission must be obtained before hand. This is the tiny islet where the critically endangered Polynesian Ground-dove was discovered in 1990's.

Polynesian Ground-dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera) - Male foraging on scrub floor

Polynesian Ground-dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera) is originally found widely throughout Society Islands and Tuamotu Archipelago. It soon became extinct in Tahiti after arrival of Europeans as it fell prey to black rat that came together with the ship. Later it had also become extinct on many Tuamotu islands where it was formerly reported by locals.

See BirdLife's link for more information (
The islet is very pristine with lots of seabirds hovering over it as well as many nestings on the island. Due to shallow corals fringing around the islet, we had to get off the boat and waded for 100 meters before reaching the sandy coral shore. It was the first-timer's luck that I found my first stunning and tame male Polynesian Ground-dove within 5 minutes of reaching the scrubs. It was feeding nonchalantly on the buds and seeds on the floor. All together I counted 4 males and 1 female where one male has some pink paints on its breast done by researcher earlier for monitoring purpose as well as one male with paler grey head and nape, probably suggesting old and worn plumage.

The very rarely photographed female Ground-dove

Two Bristle-thighed Curlews (Numenius tahitiensis) were found along the beach were very reluctant to fly. So much so that I had 'herded' them for 150 meters along the beach. One tried to tucked under the beach scrub. One finally took off when I wanted to prove if there were really flightless during wing moult at wintering ground.

Bristle-thighed Curlew is a threatened species. More information can be found in BirdLife International link:-

The larger Brown Noddy

The smaller Black Noddy (below)

Other seabirds seen on this islet are Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor palmerstoni), Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster), White Tern (Gygis alba), Black Noddy (Anous minutus) and Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus).

We then headed to a touristy site which is called Le Lagon Bleu (Blue Lagoon). This is an idyllic shallow turquoise blue lagoon (lagoon within lagoon) fringed with islets of coconut grove. We landed on one of the small islet and heard the Blue Lorikeet (Vini peruviana) even before we came ashore.

Juvenile Great Frigatebird

Once on this small islet, the lorikeet is very easy to find but difficult to have a decent photograph because it flew from one coconut tree to another. Feeding on coconut nectar, the lorikeets often moved in pair and became very quiet when feeding. While chasing after the lorikeet, I also found a quiet Tuamotu Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus atypha) as well as few nesting Brown Noddy.

Blue Lorikeet (Vini peruviana)

Being very satisfied with so many sighting in a day, we finally got back to our boat and called it a day. Unfortunately the weather became windy and even the usual calm lagoon became rather rough. We had to put on special raincoat as it was both bumpy and splashy on our last leg back to the main Avatoru island. There was no need to wipe my face as I was constantly sprayed with sea water - nice drinking of Tuamotu's very clean sea water too!

Tuamotu Reed-warbler picking up left-over rice??

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 6 - Tue 07 Aug 2007 Rangiroa - Papeete

The sea was still rough for the whole day and it was a good choice that we had done all the necessary boat trip the day before. It also rained intermittedly at noon as well as in the afternoon. I had purposely booked a late 430pm flight back to Tahiti because I had earlier planned for a full two days on Rangiroa in case the weather was not condusive for boat riding.
The rest of the day was relaxing and we visited a black pearl farm nearby. Also visited the local post office to send a very meaningful postcard to my parents with the stamp of Polynesian Ground-dove affixed - proving that I had seen the bird from the island I was sending the postcard from.

Rangiroa Airport
It was a very memorable trip to Rangiroa birdwatchigwise as well as travelling wise. Norbert and his wife as well as their two cute sons accompanied us to the airport. I would highly recommend Norbert's family run bungalow for any visitors to Rangiroa atoll. Norbert speaks good English and was very helpful. They have two bungalows where the bigger one is suitable for bigger family with self catering facilities. See his web to know better what a ‘pension’ look like. (

Goodbye Rangiroa!!!

The flight home was slightly delayed because of a brief heavy down pour right after the plane had landed. It was very cloudy on way home so there was no need to grab a strategic window seat. By the time we arrived at Tahiti airport, there was a small chaos of baggage retrival where the carousal was stopped every now and then.Considering ourself as familiarised travellers after spending several days in French Polynesia, we had decided to take a bus to the town at 7pm. It was still a bit tricky to get to the bus stop, however with moderate luggage we were able to walk up the steps through the car park and crossed two roads before stopping a bus. All buses (as well as 'Le truck') going to the left (east) direction head to the city. Had dinner at our favourite caravan park "Les Roulottes" at the town centre and then crossed the street to a taxi stand to go back to Radisson Hotel.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 7 - Wed 07 Aug 2007 Papeete

Caught a public bus from Resort to Town Centre. Mostly shopping for souvenir and walking around the city. Picked up our rented car from Europcar from its city office. Drove out of town to survey on places away from town centre. Visited Inter-Continental Hotel, Sheraton Hotel as well as passing by the air port. Traffic congestion in Papeete during peak hour is comparable to any large cities in the world.

We tried to save our pockets by shopping at the Carrefour Supermarket in the eastern suburb of Papeete. Here the Carrefour is nothing different from the Carrefour supermarkets that I have been familiar with in Malaysia/Singapore, except that the price of everything in Tahiti is very expensive. On our way out at the cashier counter, I had noticed that some shoppers were carrying environment friendly shopping bags bearing a very attractive red parrot on it. Wow that was Rimatara Lorikeet and I quickly bought 2 bags where one will be used as a ‘souvenir’. What a good 'bird' encounter at the local shopping mall and what a good idea to promote conservation to the public of this beautiful and endangered lorikeet of French Polynesia.

As usual, we could not get enough of nice dinner variety at the caravan park in the town centre. After the dinner, we had a night rehearsal drive to find the route to Papenoo where I intend to visit next morning.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 8 - Thu 07 Aug 2006 Papeete, Papenoo Valley, Round Island Trip

Left resort at 8am and headed to Papenoo valley. Papenoo town is situated 17 kms from Papeete and 10 km from our resort. Papenoo River is the longest river in Tahiti. Before crossing the river bridge over Papenoo River, we turned right from the main coastal road and headed inland. The valley road is well paved only in the first 4 kms from the coast and it gets very bumpy afterwards with many potholes and often I had to drive as slow as 10kmph. At distance of 7 kms we came to a very peculiar one-vehicle narrow iron bridge and a cement river bed crossing in parallel to it. According to the signboard, one must use the iron bridge in going direction and cross the river bed in returning trip. The river bed crossing is a depression cement road which is constantly submerged by the flow of Papenoo river. When the water level is low, one could just drive through the shallow river. However I could imagine that the car could be washed away when the water level is high. After crossing the iron bridge, I had the opportunity to witness another local’s 4WD that still used the narrow iron bridge on his way back to the coast. That means no many drivers are game enough to use the cement river bed crossing.
My main purpose for this trip is to look for another endemic of Tahiti Island - the Tahiti Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus caffer).
This species used to have other races in nearby Moorea and Huahine Islands but all these have become extinct recently. This species is also unique in having two colour morphs - the more common yellow morph and the rarer dark brown morph, which is very unusual in passerine birds. (Let me know if you know of this phenomenon in other birds besides the hepatic/normal morph in some cuckoos, black/brown morph in Asiatic Paradise Flycatcher and Black/Red/Yellow face in Gouldian Finch). Due to its low number and narrow distribution on the island, the Tahiti Reed Warbler is considered as Vulnerable according to BirdLife International. (See link

Alas, after driving for an hour at low speed, the Reed-warbler was still nowhere to be found; despite we had stopped at every bamboo clumps we had passed by. Also watch out for the very abundant mosquito as this part of the valley is still at low altitude. These mosquitoes looked like Aedes Mosquito with zebra-like legs and are very active in daytime. Feeling disappointed with no target found, we parked our car at about 10km where there was a proper parking lot at the right side of the road. There was a signboard at further 100 meters warning that the road afterwards is strictly for 4WD vehicle. Standing in front of my rented car, I heard some non-melodious gecko like call 'Chrrr..chrrr' coming out from a 8 meter tree. This is an isolated small patch of scrubs sandwiched between the road and the wide stream. Took a look with my naked eye and blind me - a chunky yellow passerine bird hopping from one twig to another. This must be the Reed Warbler and I quickly grabbed my camera to take a few shots. It stayed for about 10 minutes on the tree before flying across the road to the bamboo forests at the foothill and finally disappeared and stopped calling altogether. By recognising the call, I could remember that I only heard 2 others throughout the journey. The Reed-warbler either calls infrequently or is genuinely rare. Other birds seen are White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus dorotheae), Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer), Grey-backed White-eye, Chestnut-breasted Manikin and Red-browed Firefinch.

We left Papenoo valley at 11am and continued our clockwise round island trip for simply scenic drive. The northwest coast of Tahiti is the steepest part of the valley, where the sea wave is almost 3 meters from the paved road. This part is the least developed part of the island. According to the guide book that this part of the road is often closed due to soil erosion. This was true for us as at one part we waited for 20 minutes on the road while a fallen tree was being removed. The Taravao at the isthmus or the neck of Tahiti is surprisingly the only decent town in the eastern region. Further southeast in the Tahiti Iti is the Teahupoo which is unexpectedly quiet. Even a public toilet at the end of the road near Teahupoo is closed.
We back tracked to Taravao Ishmus and had our lunch at a friendly Tahitian Chinese restaurant across the police station. The drive back to Papeete along the south coast gave us the other look of the Tahiti Island. We must have missed out many highlights along the road such as Gauguin Museam and the Museam of Tahiti and the Islands. We stopped at Sofitel Hotel briefly to take the photo of the Moorea in the background, without realising that about 2 hours earlier, a plane departing from Moorea crashed soon after take off, killing all 21 passengers and crews in it. According to our contact in Tahiti, this is the fourth plane accident in French Polynesia and the first avian accident that
involved commercial aircraft.
"Melting Pots" of Tahiti? Our lunch at Taravao consists of French baguette, chinese sweet and sour chicken and local fruit Pomme Etoile ("Star Apple").

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 9 - Fri 09 Aug 2007 Papeete, Papenoo Valley, Airport

Today is our last day in French Polynesia. After some arrangement with my wife, I had decided to visit Papenoo Valley again by myself, hoping to see more of the Tahiti Reed Warbler in one last try. Well I did finally saw the dark brown morph of the Reed Warbler singing non-melodiously at the vintage point from a tall bamboo branch at Km 9 inland but this bird was even more skittish and it vanished into the thicks of the bamboo and stopped calling as soon as it found out that I was watching it. Other birds seen is the same as those seen the day before with additonal one Gray-green Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus purpuratus purpuratus) and an Indian Mynah. Driving for 1.5 hours one way just to see one single bird plus a few other feral birds may sound too unproductive but sometimes it is still better than not to see the target bird at all.
Gray-green Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus purpuratus purpuratus) Papenoo Valley, Tahiti.

The rest of the day was driving around in the city while my wife did her spa treatment at the resort.
I stopped by a large chinese temple in the northern edge of the Papeete town, close to hospital, along Ave George Clemenceau. This is a large chinese temple, considering there are only about 5% of chinese descendants in Tahiti and many of them have adopted christianity and become assimilated with the local society.

Chinese Temple in Papatee, Tahiti

We were offered late checkout without penalty. Also I got the resort management's permission to take some last shots of the Tahitian dance in that Friday evening. After checking out at 9pm, we went to the resort bar where there was a live band on Friday. This was really a good spot to wrap up our eventful and well planned 8-night-stay in French Polynesia. With lovely and exotic live band mostly in French and Tahitian songs, as well as a good dancing crowd of mostly locals on the dance floor, why not join the crowds and we had the nicest dance of all time, despite we appeared to be the most awkward couple on the dance floor as the local dancers must have come to dance every weekend. After finishing up our non-alcoholic cocktails at 10.30pm, we drove slowly to the air port and were cautious of many motorbikes on Friday night. The route and the suburbs on the way to the Airport somehow looked eerily dark and quiet and we thought that we had travelled the wrong route. We parked our rented car at the designated car park zone and dropped the key to the designated drawer. Our car was the dustiest of all among all other returned rented cars, thanks to my two trips to Papenoo valley. We had the courtesy to splash it with some water and wiped it briefly although a passer by just told us to leave the car alone.
The airport check-in process was slow that lasted through mid night. Strangely that a souvenir shop at the departure hall still opened until 2am, allowing for anyone who want to get rid of their remaining local currency.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 10 - Sat 11 Aug 2006 Papeete Airport - Sun 12 Aug 2006 Sydney

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Practical Information

Having mentioned all the good things about French Polynesia, one thing that every traveller should, or must, keep in mind is that nothing is cheap here. In fact, some of the items can be ridiculously expensive and many travellers have felt the pinch right from booking the trip.

We have managed to have good time by not spending lavishly and simultaneosly not living in a spartan condition. Some of the things we have experienced and worth noting:-

1) Food - The wagon restaurant square "Les Roulottes" at the water front in the Papeete centre is a great place to enjoy very affordable and great food. With many meals cost less than 1000XPF (~USD10) and there are many varieties to choose from among many of the wagon restaurants - chinese, pizza, crepes, barbecue fish, steak with fries, etc.

Drinking waters - the local big bottled drinking water is subsidised and hence it is worthwhile to buy them in half a dozen.

French loaf (baguette) - this is also a subsidised food item and almost invariably served with any meals ordered at "Les Roulottes". I have seen baguette sold at Carrefour Supermarket at only 60XPF (~USD0.60). However, any varieties of french loaf would be mostly over 200XPF.

2) Bus - the public bus system is fairly efficient in day time. Some of them have not been replaced and are still the traditional "Le Truck", which is a modified version of truck to carry passenger. We had paid 200XPF for trip from Radisson Resert to the Papeetee centre and 100XPF between Airport to Papeete centre. Please note that there is no bus service after 430pm except for those serving between airport and Papeete centre. In most cases we hardly waited more than 10 minutes and on one evening we caught a bus outside of Airport at 7pm without waiting. Both bus and taxi drivers have the right to charge additional 100XPF for each additional piece of bulky luggage.

3) Taxi - beware that the taxi charges is very expensive especially after 8pm. We had paid 4300XPF (300XPF was for 3 pieces of large luggage) for our arrival trip from Airport to Radisson resort which took 15minutes.

4) Car Rental - again this is by no means cheap. One should save money if the car is rented for at least 3 days and return the car at the airport when departing (in this way, one could save the airport transfer and have more time hanging around at the hotel). During our trip, Europcar offered a 20% discount for international visitors travelling on Air Tahiti Nui.

For more practical information, I would recommed Frommer's Travel Guide Tahiti & French Polynesia (1st Edition, 2007).

Something that I have not tried myself but would love to hear from others about the Tahiti Airport Lodge. It is about 200 meter up on a small hill when one comes out from the air port building. It should not be a problem at all for some one to walk up to the hotel without any heavy luggage, although air port transfer is available from the hotel owner. I have come across some very bad comments on the lodge but a decent and simple accommodation next to airport is very much needed for a traveller who only stops briefly in Tahiti and spends most of his time on the outer islands.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Systematic List of Birds Observed

White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus dorotheae)

Papenoo Valley, Tahiti: 11, 12 Aug. Single birds seen flying in the valley 10 kms from coast. They probably nest in this area.

Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster plotus)

Private islet, Rangiroa: 06 Aug. Small number of juveniles roosting on shrubs. Only one adult seen when our boat approached the islet.

Great Frigate Bird (Fregata minor palmerstoni)

Private islet, Blue Lagoon islet, Rangiroa: 06 Aug. One male seen gliding above the private islet and a juvenile seen gliding above Blue Lagoon islet.

Pacific Reef Heron (Egretta sacra sacra)

Blue Lagoon islet, Rangiroa: 06 Aug. Single white morph.
Papenoo Valley, Tahiti: 10 Aug. Single dark morth. 7 km inland from coast.

Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa)

Papenoo Valley, Tahiti: 09 Aug. Group of 3 swimming in Papenoo River, about 3km away from coast.

Red Junglefow (Gallus gallus)

SW Valley, Tahiti: 04 Aug. Heard once and also a fleeting view of a flying cock. If this is a wild bird, then it must have been introduced by ancient Polynesian long time ago.

Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis)VU

Private islet, Rangiroa: 04 Aug. Record 3 birds. One bird was very reluctant to fly and at one time it tried to tuck under the beach scrub when I walked towards it along the beach. The calls 'ki-wi' give it the local Puamotu name as 'Kivi'.

Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus pileatus)

Private islet, Blue Lagoon islet, Rangiroa: 04 Aug. Common but less abundant than Black Noddy. Nest more sparsely than Black Noddy. On Blue Lagoon islet, it nests on coconut tree.

Black Noddy (Anous minutus minutus)

Private islet, Blue Lagoon islet, Rangiroa: 04 Aug. Most abundant seabird on the private islet. Nest in congregration but not recorded on Blue Lagoon islet. One followed our boat for a few minutes.

White Tern (Gygis alba pacifca)
Private islet, Rangiroa: 04 Aug. Common and breeding with nestlings found. Some white birds found on the shore of Radisson Resort east of Papeete are suspected to be this bird.

Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata) FERAL

Tahiti: 03,09 Aug. Common in the Papetee and resorts. Some individuals are very dark. While at the cafe of Sheraton Hotel, I had noticed one individual without a plain gap on the breast. This may indicate that this is the form from Australia, rather than from Southeast Asia. Anybody who knows the taxonomy or the actual origin of the dove, please advise me.

Polynesian Ground-Dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera erythroptera) CRITICAL

Private islet, Rangiroa: 06 Aug. Rare, counted 4 males and one female. They were very tame and did not go away from observer if we remain calm. All were found foraging lonely on the ground, although the female are only about 3 meters away from the other 2 males . The 4 males were confirmed to be 4 separate individuals based on subtle differences on plumage after analysing the photos. One male had traces of red paint on its white breast for identification. I had covered almost 3 quarters of the periperal of the islet but only found them on the spot where I first started the survey.

This population in Rangiroa Atoll is peculiar as being different from the white-headed subspecies which is found in nearby Central Tuamotu Archipelago. Rather it looks closer to the nominate form that is found in Society Islands (now extinct) as well as the southern Tuamotu islands. Blood sample has been extracted by researcher from this population recently for DNA analysis.
[My own hypothesis: This population is an escapee population descended from Tahiti or Moorea that is now extinct. Rangiroa Atoll is peculiar among other Tuamotu Archipelago in having strong association with Tahiti as the native language commonly spoken here is Tahitian and rather than Paumotu, the native dialect in Tuamotu. Polynesian Ground-Dove was caught by local people for food and it is possible that the ground-dove was brought in as live food supplement many centuries ago. The islet where the Ground-dove is found today is also facing Tahiti in the south. Don't buy my story yet but there has to be a reason to explain why the Ground-Dove in Rangiroa is not the same as the other population in nearby atolls.]

Nowadays, only two disjunct populations survive - This tiny population in single islet in Rangiroa as well as in a small number of atolls in the other southern end of Tuamotu Archipelago.

The Ground-dove in Rangiroa was said to be extirpated by a bad storm in 1990's when the islet was totally submerged. Apparently they survived the storm. However it is not known whether they will be lucky again if the current global warming problem continues that will cause sea level rise and bring more frequent as well as stronger tropical cyclones. Today, there are only about 12 Ground-doves living on this tiny islet

More information can be found from BirdLife International's link.

See more information in PDF format from official website of The Ornithological Society of Polynesia - "MANU"

Also I personally like some old paintings during Cook's voyages, see links from Natural History Museam

Grey-green Fruit-Dove (Ptilinoptus purpuratus purpuratus)

SW Valley, Tahiti: 04 Aug. Papenoo Valley: 10 Aug. Singles seen on tree canopy.

Rock Pigeon (Columba liva) FERAL

Papeete, Tahiti: Common

Blue Lorikeet (Vini peruviana) VULNERABLE

Blue Lagoon, Rangiroa: 06 Aug. Very vocal when flying between coconut trees, feeding on nectar. At least 2 pairs found on the tiny coconut grove islet which is only slightly bigger than a basketball court. Liked to play hide-and-seek with us. Luckily most coconut trees were not too tall so I did not strain my neck too badly. Occassionally one would glide on the tropical breeze as if it tried to behave like a seabird - very playful behaviour!!

See more information in PDF format from official website of The Ornithological Society of Polynesia - "MANU"

Tahiti Swiftlet (Collocalia leucophaea) VULNERABLE

SW Valley, Tahiti: 04 Aug. A small number flied above the forest canopy at the valley where the Tahiti Monarch was found. Later I was led to a canyon where about 20 nests were clustered on a overhanging cliff. The nest does not look edible at all, with mud and fibre - which is good. An overal dark brown swiftlet.

This is also an endemic swiftlet. Found on Tahiti island only with total global population estimated less than one thousand.

Refer to link to BirdLife International for more information.

Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) INTRODUCED

Papeete, Suburbs, Papenoo Valley, Tahiti. A very common bird at Resort. Also found in Papenoo Valley. Hence it can be easily confused with the dark morph of Tahiti Reed Warber.

Tahiti Monarch (Pomarea nigra) CRITICAL

SW Valley, Tahiti: 04 Aug. 3 black adults seen in the a 2 adjoining territories along a mountain stream. By no means an attractive bird, the adult bird is entirely black with white bill. As the area is almost birdless except for the monarch, it is easier to locate them once they started singing. From time to time, the trio formed a mini birdwave of their own and swooped past us at eye level. With only slightly more than 40 individuals ever surviving on this planet, it was my great priviledge to have a close encounter with one of the world's rarest bird.

Introduced Black Rat is the Monarch's greatest threat as it preys on nesting birds. Rat poison was laid in areas where the Monarch is found. It is hoped that with intensive rat eradication program, the Monarch's population will increase. However, Tahiti Monarch still face with several other threats such as habitat degradation and competition with introduced birds.
More information can be found from BirdLife International's link.

See more information in PDF format from official website of The Ornithological Society of Polynesia - "MANU"

Tahiti Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus caffer caffer) VULNERABLE

Papenoo Valley, Tahiti: 09 Aug, 10 Aug. One yellow morph was seen and photographed on 09 Aug at 10km road inland and a rarer dark morph was glimpsed the next day at 9km road inland. In both cases, the birds had to be located first by their 'chrrr....chrrr' unmelodious call in the morning. On 09 Aug, I could only record 2 other calls along the road. On 10th, the dark morph bird vanished soon after I have discovered and there were no calls at all for the rest of the late morning. Such a scarcity of the bird was probably either due to the intermitted rain on that morning, the birds do not often call or simply the bird are genuinely rare.

According to the review from BirdLife International, there are only a few hundreds of them found in Tahiti.

Tuamotu Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus atyphus atyphus)

Blue Lagoon islet, Rangiroa: 06 Aug: One lonely bird was found scavanging on some left over rice on the ground while I was photographing the Blue Lorikeet. Later one more (probably the same individual) was found lurking on the crown of a coconut palm.

Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) INTRODUCED

Papeete, Papenoo Valley: 10 Aug. I could only remember clearly seeing one individual in Papeeno Valley at road side where I found the Tahiti Reed Warbler.

Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) INTRODUCED

SW Valley, Tahiti 04 Aug. Papenoo Valley, Tahiti 09 Aug, 10 Aug. Common forest bird around Tahiti. A popular bird well known among locals. I was told that the Silvereye helps disperse the seeds of invasive plant Miconia, hence not a good introduced bird!

Chestnut-breasted Munia (Lonchura castaneothorax) INTRODUCED

Papenoo Valley: 09 Aug, 10 Aug. Coastal Suburbs, Tahiti: 09 Aug. Found small flocks in open grassy habitat, including some hotel resorts in Tahiti. Due to less competition, it is easier to see this bird in Tahiti than in its native home in western Sydney, Australia.

Red-browed Firetail (Neochmia temporalis) INTRODUCED
Coastal suburbs, hotels, Tahiti: 09 Aug. Common and can be found in green areas of local hotels.

Some dips worth noting:

Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica tahitica)

Although I am very familiar with the form (abbotti) found in Malaysian and Singapore. I was still very curious to see the form found in Tahiti as it has both the species name and subspecies named after the island I was visiting. Unfortunately I did not see any eventhough I was looking hard for any birds that behaves like Pacific Swallow or Barn Swallow.

Tahiti Kingfisher (Todiramphus veneratus)
Kingfisher are often photogenic when found perching on branch. Too bad that I did not notice any kingfishers on the island. This Kingfisher is said to be common on the island. I have however heard some kingfisher like calls in Papenoo Valley every now and then.

Chattering Kingfisher (Todiramphus tuta)

This kingfisher is said to be uncommon in Tahiti and is only found in high elevation. Since I did not travel in 4WD to ascend to the high country, so the chances of seeing one was expectedly nil.

Atoll Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus coralensis)

Perhaps I was too concerned of looking for the Polynesian Ground-dove and had ignored this bird. Was told by my guide that it can also be found on the main island in wooded area where it is often attracted to fruiting trees. I was willing to give this a miss as I had to accompany my wife on other general activities such as cycling and visiting a local pearl farm.

Also no raptors were seen in this trip.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Acknowledgements and References

Polynesian Ground-dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera) - Male

I owe my great trip to the people behind The Ornithological Society of Polynesia - "MANU". Without their help and invaluable information, this trip would not have been so fruitful.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude especially to Philippe Raust, Anne Gouni, Jean Durieux, Norbert Lau and Dylan Kesler (USA) to make the trip successful and so memorable to me.


As both the Tahiti Monarch and Polynesian Ground-dove are critically endangered species, the habitats where they survive are hence sensitve. Visiting their habitat for survey or photography must be in small group of visitors and it should be made known to MANU or contacts through MANU for gathering of survey information.

Please note that MANU is understaffed and they do not always reply to visitor's enquiries promptly. These are friendly people when meeting face to face but they are often busy on expedition trips on some very remote outer islands doing the meaningful conservations and survey works. Your support in terms of membership, sponsorship or donation would certainly help to conserve and research on birds of French Polynesia.

Copy Rights Reminder

All the photos posted in this blog, unless specificially specified, are the blogger's own copyrighted photographs. Please seek the blog owner's permission if you are interested in using of any of the photos in this blog.


Field Guides

Pratt, H.D., Bruner, SP.L and Berrett, D.G. (1987). A Field Guide to the Birds Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. - Adequately covers birds in French Polynesia. As it is 20 years old guidebook, I do not use it to look for current status and distribution of many bird species.


Howard, Moore (1998) . A Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World (Second Edition). - No a very up-to-date version. However this is a good source to referrenc to subspecies level. I do not stick to any particular world checklist. But if you have any doubts or disagreement, please let me know (tunpin dot ong at gmail dot com)

Collar, N.J. (editor) (2000). Threatened Birds of the World. BirdLife International

Useful Websites

The Ornithological Society of Polynesia - "MANU"

The most useful site for my trip. Some downloadable newsletters are great but unfortunately they are all in French and I had to struggle to understand them.

BirdLife International -

Useful source of informaiton from international perspective.

Trip Reports

Van Biers, M. Polynesia, 8-30 September (2004). Link with downloadable PDF.

Morris, P. Polynesia, 6-28 September (2006). Link with downloadable PDF.

Both trip reports provide very useful information especially the later one comes with stunning photos. Great trip reports even just for reading.

Afterthoughts from the Trip

Looking at the world map, you could hardly find any spots on Earth where the environmental conditions are getting better. French Polynesia is not doing well either with problems of rising sea level, population growth, pollution, etc. However, this is one of the few places you could come across some positive news that a few highly endangered flagship bird fauna are recovering, albeit slowly. Thanks to a small group of people working hard to save and research on these endangered fauna as well as their habitats.

Kudo to these people especially we keep coming across negative news from other parts of the world where natural habitats are being destroyed ruthlessly unsustainably. Forests are cleared, wetlands are drained, coastal areas are reclaimed, rivers are polluted, etc.

Our earth is beautiful. Treasure it! (Rangiroa Atoll, Tuamotu Archipelago)

Thank you for your interest to read my blog.

If you have any comments, suggestions or questions, please write to me (tunpin dot ong at gmail dot com).

Have a GOOD DAY !!!